Plan D:Lake Effect

by Driver

Chapter 2

Weeks passed after the shooting at school, and nothing useful had yet been published about what was going on. Ron Mastracchio was undergoing one surgery after another, and the police had yet to interview him. I saw his brother Mike around school, and he said Ron would recover. There was a lot of work for the doctors, but after the final surgery and some therapy he was expected to be almost as good as new.

Mike wasn't talking about what might have transpired, though, nor was anyone else. The story was out of the news stream and out of the gossip mill. People hadn't forgotten, but there were many things going on in a school that size. The shooting was on everyone's back burner until there were developments in the story.

Baseball practice had started. It had only been twice a week, and all indoors, but I had that to look forward to. We'd practice more starting the next week when the field was ready.

The excitement for me that week was that the school play would be staged three times, and the shows were all sellouts. I'd be a stage hand for two of them, and I was the backup man on the lighting, so I'd get to do that for the middle performance on Saturday afternoon.

I was still acing my tests, getting my homework right, and generally doing as well in school as I'd ever hoped to. I was happy, and I was excited about things.

I was about to out myself, too, and I didn't have much choice. Saturday night was the last performance of the play, and there was going to be a big party right afterwards at a hall they rented. It was for the cast and the crew.

And their dates.

Aaron was coming to see the show, of course. Since I had put a lot of time and effort into the set design, and also the lighting design, I was not about to miss that party. I'd made a lot of new friends among the cast and crew. I sure wasn't going to leave Aaron alone, so the time was nigh for old Evan Smiley to take a giant step.

The truth is, I was ready. Eager, even. I honestly didn't foresee any major problems for myself when word got around that I was gay. I wasn't A-list, but I had friends rather than enemies, and I was reasonably popular. Actually, if I dated girls I would have been A-listed right along.

There were some out gay kids in school, just not many of them. I heard under-the-breath remarks about a few of them, but nothing overt, and I never heard about any harassment. Some kids made wisecracks behind their backs, and that was about it. Even that wasn't right, but the population of the school seemed pretty mellow about the whole issue. Oddly enough, it had been part of Mr. Throckmorton's job to enforce the district's anti-harassment policies. He was always the guy to lay those rules out during assemblies, and he was good at it. Gay wasn't the only thing, of course. We, as citizens of our left-leaning state and residents of Mt. Harman, weren't allowed to dislike anybody very much, except maybe avowed Republicans. Well, we weren't allowed to voice our dislike, anyhow.

It was a paradox, really. If we didn't automatically profess to loving absolutely everybody, we'd be zero-toleranced out on our ears so fast that our grades wouldn't catch up with us for months. I thought the people who made laws were completely mad, out of their collective minds. I mean, where's the difference between intolerance and zero-tolerance? Intolerance might be stupid, but zero-tolerance doesn't even allow for thought!

It's the people that zero-tolerance is enacted on that most need to be educated about tolerance. Yet zero-tolerance effectively denies schools, which are in the business of education, the chance to teach them anything about tolerance. And actually, it makes it more unlikely that they'll learn tolerance from their experience. It seems like they'd learn more about intolerance and the power of the system to hurt them rather than help them see other possibilities.

Whatever. Gays were not persecuted at Mt. Harman High. My observations of the ones I knew were just because of casual interest. None were my friends, and them being gay wouldn't automatically change them into my friends. I did pay attention to how they interacted with other kids, how they were treated in class, in the lunch lines, and especially in gym.

There wasn't one answer, either. They were different ages and had different interests. I should mention that, as far as I knew, none of them had any real personal interest in any of the others. If the guys had boyfriends, or if the girls had girlfriends, I didn't know about them. Actually, there was a minor stink the year before when a Senior brought her girlfriend from another school to the prom. Some parents didn't like it, and they proved it by not letting their own kids attend. The school has no way to zero-tolerance parents, so those few kids missed their own Senior prom based on the values they learned at home, and they probably blamed gays now if they didn't before.

It was Wednesday, two more days to the first performance of Pippin, and I had baseball practice after school. I was really wired, and for a whole lot of reasons. Spring was in the air, and that made a huge difference in people's moods. The warm weather wasn't there in force yet, but if you didn't mind the wind you'd be okay outside in shirt sleeves, and if you had a sandwich rather than a hot lunch, you could even enjoy eating outside.

The fields were still being prepared, so we did calisthenics for most of our practice, then tossed soft baseballs around. That part was fun. In the gym, we had to play like it was an elongated field to get the distances between bases approximately right. We just threw at first, calling our own throws. Then the coaches started tossing balls as if they'd been hit; grounders to the infield, flies to the outfield, and we played them like we would in a game. Well, we should have fielded them like that. If you want to see a baseball move, try skimming it across a hardwood gym floor. It was valid practice, anyhow. If we could make those plays, then really hard hits on grass wouldn't likely come at us any faster.

After practice we showered up, then headed home. Chris and I were alone for once, for reasons unknown, but that gave us time to talk about things.

"This bites, Ev," Chris said. "There are at least a dozen empty spots in that student lot every day. Why oh why can't we at least try to park there?"

He had a point, but as lowly Sophomores we weren't encouraged to use student parking. "I know," I grumbled, kicking a pebble. "If they let us spend all our money on cars and insurance, the least we could do is drive them." I had a thought, and I elbowed Chris, then grinned when he looked at me. "Maybe we could ask for a subsidy. They could call it the Chris Humphrey Sophomore Driving Penalty Subsidy or something." I grinned, "You should call your Congressman."

"That fat fool? I don't think so, Evan." Chris sputtered out a laugh and touched my arm, "The bastard's trying to take away my best friend! He wants gays to be institutionalized."

I laughed, "I know, and he wants freaking cigars exempted from the no-smoking rules. Who votes for idiots like him? Was the alternative that bad?"

"I don't remember," Chris said. "I wasn't born yet."

I figured it was as good a time as any, so I said, "I'm coming out, Chris. Saturday after the play."

He stopped walking, and he looked kind of pale when I looked at him. "What?" I asked.

Chris stared at me for a long moment, like he was trying to figure something out, then, without giving up the blank stare, he said, "Wow. About time. What brings this on?"

I started walking, and in a few strides Chris was beside me again. "I have to, Chris. I want to, too, but I have to."

Chris snickered, "Too many to's, Ev. Sorry, I shouldn't correct, but if you actually wrote that sentence out, you'd see what I mean."

I said, "I'm serious."

Chris said, "I know you are, and I'm proud. You're the man, Evan! Invite me, I wanna be there!"

"Really?" I smiled.

Chris nodded. "Yeah, really. You are the man, Evan. Half the school is trying to be like you."

"Yeah, right!"

"I'm not kidding," Chris said earnestly. "We've bred more Cossacks than mother Russia did in her prime! The world hasn't seen as many pratfalls since the days of the silent movies. You are the man, Evan!"

"What about you?" I asked cheerfully.

"Well, yeah ... make that read we are the men! I'm serious, though. In the entire history of all high schools, name for me one other instance where a freshman had Seniors mimicking his style." Chris grinned his brightest, which was the world's best smile, "That's us man!" His gaze leveled on my eyes, "I don't mean you'll get copycats when you come out, but you. especially you, ain't about to have any problems with it!"

We walked along in silence while I thought about that, and I absently reached for Chris' hand. He jerked away at first, then shrugged and took a firm grip on mine. I said, "I'm doing it. It's not for me. I'm doing it for Aaron, so he'll have a good reason to be there with me. I think you're right, too. It's a deal, but it's no big deal."

Chris gave my hand a squeeze, then let go. "Yeah, for Aaron. You think you guys'll get married some day?"

I mumbled, "I wish. I don't think that's in the cards."

Chris said, "You watch! Your day will come."

And with that, our quota of seriousness was spent. Chris yelled, "Woo!" and dropped into a squat that spelled Cossack, and I dropped beside him.

There, right in a Seven-Eleven parking lot, we danced exuberantly across it, arms linked and grins for the ages on our faces. We usually just imagined the music, but that day we voiced it, and loudly.

That night, when we were eating, I told my family what I had in mind. Nobody really said much. My brothers kept their noses out of it and their mouths shut. My father asked me if I was ready for that, and accepted my nod. My mother said nothing, but after dinner she asked me to stay.

She smiled, "You're ready? I hope you know that once you're out, you're out to the whole wide world."

I may have winced a little, but she was right. "I know," I grumbled. I straightened up in my chair, "I'm not going to be what I'm not! Does that make any sense? I can't ... I don't ... I won't take Aaron to that party and make believe he's not with me, and I'm not missing the party. Anyhow, I want to be out. Do you want to hear my reasons?"

My mother smiled and nodded, so I started. "Okay. First, and this is the big one: I'm sixteen and I already know lots of people. Only a handful of them know I'm gay, and I surprised every one of them when I told them ... even Aaron. If I tell everybody else that I know now, and everyone that knows me, then that's a lot more people I get to surprise, right?" She nodded. "I meet new people every time I turn around. If I wait a year, or two years, or ten years, then how many people do I get to surprise? That's not the real question, though, because if I wait ten years, who many more people do I have to lie to? If I get it out now, then I can live the truth."

Mom smiled as if to speak, but I didn't let her get a word in. I shook my head quickly and said, "What's important, what's really important, is how long would I last with Aaron if I tried to keep him a secret? Oh, it's okay for a little while, but how long would it be before he started feeling like he was my dirty little secret?"

My mother nodded, and she said softly, "There's danger, too. You'll have to be careful."

I grimaced, "I know, I mean I know from experience. Look at it this way. For every gay kid like Matthew Shepard who gets hurt or killed, there's probably fifty straight kids who get run over just by school buses. There's probably hundreds of times as many straight kids who get killed by gangs. It's a dangerous world. I might be wrong, but I don't think I am. I think most gay bashing takes place in churches nowadays, and it's pretty much verbal." I looked at the surprise on my mother's face. "I know that's not entirely true, but I sure don't see it in school. I'm out in Riverton anyhow, and except for a couple of yahoos in a book store, there has been no problem."

"You sound very brave, Evan."

I smiled, "I'm not brave. I've thought about it for a long time. I'm sure there are down sides, but nothing could be farther down than me hurting Aaron by hiding my pride in him ... my love for him."

My mother put her hand out on the table, and I took it. She looked in my eyes with her own looking a little watery, and whispered, "Godspeed then, Evan." She smiled warmly, "Mind your havens, we'll always wait up for you."

I squeezed her hand, "Thanks, Mom." Then she got up to go, still smiling, without much left to say.

She had used a term that the Davison side of the family had used for generations. 'Mind your havens' went way, way back to when kids in the old country had to worry about being eaten by bears or cooked up by witches. They needed safe havens they could duck into to get out of harm's way. The nature of the dangers had changed over the centuries, but not the need for safe havens. We'd all been taught to look for the Helping Hand signs, to learn where they were, so if we felt threatened we knew where to turn for refuge. Mom had just tied it in with our own thing about waiting up, and it was pretty neat. There were people along the way willing to look out for me, and people waiting at home to love me. I felt really good about my life right then.

I talked to Aaron that night, and told him. He already knew about the party after the play, and that we were going to it. He didn't know what I had planned, so I told him.

"I'll be with you there, Aaron," I said, then I realized that was pretty dumb. "I mean, I'll be with you. Maybe the other way around, I'm not sure how this goes. It's my function, so that makes you my date, right?"

"Pretty much," Aaron said casually, then he went silent. It was half a minute before he said, "Would you say that again? I'm your date?"

I grinned. There was so much inflection in that, like Aaron was caught totally off guard. I decided to play with him, "Well, you're one of my dates. I'm taking Chris, too."

Aaron giggled, "Are you drinking?"

I laughed, "No. I wish I was, but what I'm doing is coming out! It's gonna be me and you, Aaron ... you and me ... us together! Aaron and Oven!"

Aaron laughed, "You just called yourself Oven, you know."

"I heard that," I snickered. "I meant Evan. Evan and Orrin."

Aaron laughed gleefully, "You have your vowels mixed."

"I know," I said. "I hate that. It'th harder to sthtop than lithping."

"Don't get me going!" he cried. "You're really going to do this? Why now?"

I took a deep breath to transition from comedy to serious. "Because I love you, Aaron. Orrin? Never mind, I know the answer." I slowed down my words, "I am not going to make believe you're just another friend. I won't do it ... I won't cheapen what I feel for you. Why should I anyhow? Our love is real, I know it is! You're not telling me you love me to make me feel good, any more than I'm doing that to you. We say it because we mean it. It shows, too. I told you I kissed Nancy, right?"

He grunted petulantly, "You told me."

"Don't be a puss about that, listen to what she told me. She said that love was old, like ancient. I think what she meant was that love hangs around, with just so much of it to share. She said we have it, Aaron, enough that she can see it. Think about that for a second. I've been friends with Nancy since I can remember, but she sees my love for you, and yours for me. That means that we got more than our fair share of love, and if nothing else, it's up to us to show it off a little."

Aaron started snickering, and it turned into a little giggle fit. When he controlled himself, he said, "You're good, Evan. I'm sorry, is it Oven? You chastise me, then you say something that is utterly and totally profound, then you show me how it fits us. Now you want me to brag about it. Well ... okay, how loud? Let's do it!"

I laughed, "We'll do it, alright, but not in front of everybody. I feel good about this, Aar. It's time."

Aaron was quiet, then he said in a small voice, "You're doing this for me, aren't you?"

"No," I whispered, "For us. There's a whole, big world out there, and we're gonna gobble it up together."

Aaron laughed, then said, "Gobble, gobble," in his best turkey imitation.

I laughed, "Not that kind of gobble." I giggled, "Damn, now all I can think of are food similes. The world is our oyster, Aaron."


"Oyster, not duck!"

Aaron was giggling heartily, "The last time you had oysters I had to duck."

"Oh, har, har, har!"

* * * * * * * *

The first show was on Friday night at eight. The cast and crew had to be at school by six, so I wouldn't see Aaron until afterwards. He was going to watch from the audience with his family and mine, then we were all going out to eat.

I walked home after school with Chris and a couple of other friends, then drove back later in my own car.

Chris was coming with Nancy to see the play, but not really like it was a date. It was the old gang back together, which happened less and less, but it still happened sometimes for things at school.

It was all business once we got going. The players went to get into costume and makeup, and the hands, including me, went to work making sure that everything was there, and right where it belonged for the first scene. There were the light and sound people, of course, and they ran their tests while the orchestra tuned up and everything else came together.

We were ready well before the first audience members showed up, and there was this collective electricity in the air behind the big curtains. Everyone was nervous; the actors and actresses from stage fright, the rest of us certain that we'd failed somewhere that wasn't apparent yet.

That wasn't the case. There were a handful of flubbed lines, a light that blinded our star for a second, and some minor stumbling around for positions. Other than that, the audience got lots of laughs, the music came out well, and the play was a success.

After the final curtain call, there was lots of laughter, and there were plenty of hugs going around. Mr. Kennedy was giving ecstatic praise to all of us, and it seemed for awhile that nobody wanted to leave.

I worked on the play the year before, and it was the same feeling afterward. We put a lot into it, worked together and worked hard. We made new friends, formed little cliques, and the show being over didn't seem like a good enough reason for us to break up and go home.

Family and friends waiting on us was another matter, and when someone opened the curtain we could see them there. Then it was time for quick hugs, handshakes and kisses, and the stage was empty in what is known fondly as a New York minute.

I jumped off and ran to my waiting extended family. I couldn't pay attention to just one of them, not even Aaron, so I basked in the general praise. I knew it wasn't fake, because the play was really funny.

I put my arms out and tried to propel everyone toward the exit at once. "Let's go! I'm starving!"

Only Justin and Cindy weren't joining us to eat, so my parents took Bruce with them and went with Aaron's parents. I drove the rest of us, all legal because Alton was in the car.

My folks had chosen a place that I hadn't been to for a long time, but it proved to be a happy choice. A lot of people from the play showed up there with their own families, and we were all still wired, so the restaurant was loud and cheerful in no time.

Wonder of wonders, both my parents and Aaron's remembered to bring cameras, so for once there's a pictorial record of our boisterous good time and good meal. It was a great evening. We didn't stay out late because everyone had things to do the next day. The place we were in was Italian at one time, mostly a pizza place, but a family of refugees from Bosnia had taken it over and they did a great job. There was no pizza anymore, but the dishes they served were very flavorful, and only a little bit out of the ordinary.

We were home by eleven, and I was alone in my room with Aaron by eleven-oh-one. I pushed him on the bed and jumped on him, "What'd you think? What'd you really think?"

"I ..." he grinned at me, "I think I like Bosnian food. And look! I'm not puking on the ceiling!"

I growled, "Fine, don't give me a straight answer. I'll just assume 'til the end of time that you hated the play."

Aaron looked at me, then stretched his head up and kissed me on the lips. He relaxed back into the pillow, "It was a good play, Evan. I laughed, just like you said I would. I wouldn't change anything about it."

"Really?" I asked. "That means a lot coming from you, you know."

Aaron beamed, "Coming from me? Like I'm qualified as a critic? I think ... um, well ... thanks, I think."

I was already on him, and he was already reacting to that little fact, so further discussion lost its importance for both of us, and we made out.

I should leave this off here, and I will shortly, but there's one thing.

Neither Aaron nor I were especially aggressive lovers, and we didn't have any real idea of doing things other than what we already had. There was a reason for that, and it was special to me. Aaron said he felt the same, so we were together on it.

It was with touching and kissing that we best expressed our love for each other. We went beyond that when we were actually together, but we didn't have to. We were getting by on just Hershey's Kisses often enough, and I still loved that we could do that. Our favorite and best times together involved us the people, and whether we were just fooling around in fat slippers or playing with hard dicks didn't change the nature of that. Aaron could kiss me into oblivion, and whatever else that led to, I ended up just wanting more kisses afterwards.

I was athletic, and I loved the rough and tumble of basketball and hockey, the precision of baseball. Still, with Aaron I was as gentle as he was, and I liked that it came to me naturally. Like anyone else, I got down on myself sometimes, but I don't think there was ever a point where I didn't enjoy just being Evan Smiley. I know that there never was, and never will be, a point where Evan Smiley isn't crazy about Aaron Castle.

* * * * * * * *

Saturday's afternoon matinee went off fine. It was by nature a younger crowd, and afterwards Mr. Kennedy gave credit to the cast for getting a little involved with the kids in the audience. He warned against doing that again for the evening performance, then we all just left. The magic of the night before was gone, and there was nothing to hang around for.

Well, I had something. I did the lights for that performance, which meant Aaron could be with me. We were in a darkened room at the rear of the auditorium with only a computer in it. The stage lights were computerized, and all I really had to do if nothing broke was keep the timing right.

There was a drag-bar on the monitor, and the text of the play scrolled by in a window. What I had to do was, if the text got ahead of or behind what was being said on stage, I'd pull the drag-bar ahead or backwards to match, or I could just pause everything if the play got delayed by laughter or applause.

The light changes were all programmed in, and I'd done a lot of that. What it meant was that even in a darkened room with Aaron, I couldn't give in, I had a computer to keep an eye on. We walked home after the play, and I didn't have a lot of time there, either. I had to be back at school by six for the evening performance, and I had to get ready to for the party before I went back.

To get it right, I had Aaron look through my clothes while I took a shower and shaved. I went back to my room with just a towel around my waist, hoping to flash Aaron. That had to wait because my mother was in there with him, but when she saw me in the towel she remembered she had something to do.

As soon as the door closed behind her, I started doing what I imagined was a sexy dance. I kept it up until the towel came undone and fell to the floor, then I pushed Aaron onto the bed and straddled his lap facing him, my hands loosely on the back of his neck. I kissed him and asked, "Did you find me something to wear?"

He breathed heavily, "I kind of like what you have on." I raised my eyebrows in a smile, and he added, "Well, it goes with everything!"

I saw the clock and said, "There's no time right now. After the party, though. I promise."

Aaron sighed, and stood up after I did. He showed me some possibilities while I pulled on underwear and socks. I tried a few things on for him, and ended up wearing gray jeans and a turtleneck of a similar gray color, over which I wore a flannel shirt that I got for Christmas and hadn't worn yet. It was a dark gray and muted red plaid, and the combination looked good, especially when Aaron lent me his gold chain to wear around the outside of the turtleneck.

I was ready, and I called Paul when we went downstairs. He hadn't seen the play yet, so he was going to take Aaron and Chris with him, and he'd drop us all off afterwards for the party.

My mother looked me over and approved of my clothes. She wished me well with a kiss on the cheek, then I turned to my father, who looked somewhat apprehensive.

"You're going to do it?" he asked.

I nodded and smiled, "Yup."

"You're not afraid of this, are you?"

I thought, "No, not afraid. I don't really know what it's going to be like. I guess I'm nervous, but only about what people will think. I don't think anybody's going to do anything."

Dad said, "Just the same, take my cell phone with you. If there's even a hint of trouble, give me a call. If it's serious, call the cops first."

He held the phone out and I reached for it. I knew it made sense to take the precaution, but I didn't like even thinking about it. I dropped the phone in my pocket and waited for Paul.

He picked us up before long, then stopped for Chris, and he dropped me off at the auditorium entrance before he parked the car. I kissed Aaron's cheek before I got out, and it was time to go on with the show again.

I was back to being a stage hand, and I ended up first vacuuming the stage itself with the janitor's big machine. I went through the motions that night, more interested in the party afterwards, and increasingly apprehensive about my future as a gay student. I was committed to my course of action. I knew it was the right thing to do, and the timing was probably good, too.

I didn't know for a fact that anyone else in the drama club was gay, but Chris, Paul and Aaron all thought that I'd at least have a fairly sympathetic group to come out to. The other kids were all actors, musicians and artists, and not a likely group to frown on gayness.

The play went off flawlessly this time, and the cast got a nice round of ovations, and every last one of us who'd been involved went out at the last curtain call.

Then it was silent, the finality hitting all of us. The only tomorrow for Mt. Harman High School's version of Pippin was when the volunteers came the next day to clean up the stage, and to bust up the scenery. It was poignantly quiet for a few minutes, but we were teenagers with a party waiting to happen. The quiet didn't last long. Mr. Kennedy called out, "Does anyone need directions to the hall? I have a few printed out here. If not, we'll see you there!"

That woke everyone up, and the volume went up exponentially as we whooped our way off the stage. My friends were waiting, and we hurried out to Paul's car.

It was going to work out well, because we'd get to the place with the majority of people. I didn't have to make some kind of grand entrance with Aaron, I could just hold his hand on the way in, kind of set the stage and let the others figure things out as the night wore on.

That's how it started out, too. The problem was that there was no real reason to keep holding hands once we got inside. When people talked to me, I introduced Aaron as my friend from Riverton. I mentioned that he was an actor, too, so he'd have something in common.

It turns out that some people had noticed us, though. After we got some drinks and chose a table to sit at, a guy named Bobby England sat next to Chris and across from me and Aaron. We had first met in Junior High. Bobby was a nice looking kid, and he'd always been friendly enough. I just never got to know him very well.

Things change. The first thing he did after saying hello was to ask, "Evan ... are you guys an item?"

Chris turned and stared at Bobby, and I asked, "You mean me and Aaron? You could say that."

He put his hands on the table and formed fists, then he started punching his hands together lightly. I guess it was a nervous habit, because he leaned way across the table and smiled, "You're pretty brave holding hands like you were. A guy like me might think you were trying to out yourself."

I don't know why, but I laughed, albeit nervously. "A guy like you might be on the right track."

Bobby lifted his eyebrows, held the smile, and sat back to sip at his soda. He didn't say another word about it.

Our place at the table secured, we started milling around, and I held Aaron's hand when it seemed like the thing to do. The caterers were setting out the buffet, which was at an end of the room, and we walked over there to see what they had holding hands all the way. That's when many people saw us, and I could sense a change in the chatter in our wake.

It was nothing threatening, just people dropping conversations in mid-sentence, and probably trying to figure out what they were seeing. I got a little nervous, and I could tell that Aaron did, too, because both our hands started sweating. We let go anyhow when we got to the buffet, and the food looked tempting and smelled good. There was a big variety; sausages, meatballs, fried chicken, baked fish, ham and roast beef. There were colossal bowls of green salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and cole slaw. They had ziti with sauce, white rice, browned potatoes, and a whole slew of cooked vegetables.

My mouth was watering. I was very hungry to start with, and it all looked wonderful. I was totally stunned when Aaron crashed into me with enough force to almost knock me over, and before I could even think what happened, I got shoved hard by what felt like a huge hand. That was accompanied by an ugly yell of, "Out of here! Get OUT!"

Aaron was suddenly on the floor beside me, sliding on his side helplessly. I turned to look at who was doing it, and by then there was all kinds of commotion; guys yelling, people running, girls screaming. I got pushed hard again, and I tripped right over Aaron, sprawling on the floor past him.

Then I heard more rough voices, mens' voices, yelling, "Stop it, Angus! What the fuck are you doing?"

I heard the first voice scream, "Faggots! I won't have them in here!" I rolled over and got a look. A heavy set guy with fairly long gray hair was being held back by at least a half dozen other men. A lot happened at once. Chris was right there, and he checked me out, then helped Aaron to sit up. I think 9-1-1 got a dozen or more calls at once, all from cell phones. The other men pulled our struggling attacker out of the room.

Mr. Kennedy was right there, squatting beside me to see if I was alright, and I assured him that I wasn't hurt.

I finally got to Aaron, who looked alright but very shaken, and I pulled him to me. "It's okay, Aar. It's over. He's gone."

Aaron gasped, "You're okay?"

Except for the fact that my heart was racing a mile a minute, I was fine. "I'm okay. How about you?"

He rubbed an elbow and said, "Nothing's broken." Then, to my surprise, he snickered, "Man, I just hate when that happens."

It was only when the room broke out in laughter that I realized how close everyone had pulled in around us. When we finally got to our feet, there was a collective sigh of relief. It was then that I noticed one of the teachers helping Janice Niepper to a chair, and her face had a little trickle of blood on it. I asked nobody in particular, "What happened?"

"That guy pushed her," someone said.

"She tried to stop him, Evan," someone else said. "She called him 'uncle', and he pushed her away."

We got back to our table, where I sat down heavily. Aaron sat beside me and started brushing dirt off my shirt. "Who was that masked man?" he whispered, and it made me feel better to laugh.

Mr. Kennedy came hurrying up with another man, who stood behind him. He leaned, down, "Are you sure you're alright, Evan? This is Anthony Cardillo, he's the manager here."

I stood and shook hands, as did Aaron, and I said, "We're okay. What happened to Janice?"

Mr. Kennedy said, "She's fine. She scratched her cheek on something."

Cardillo edged in between Mr. Kennedy and me, and said, "Angus was drinking, boys. I never saw him fly off like that. He's a member here, but just a customer. What he said is just that ... what he said. He doesn't make our policies, and our policy is that anyone who behaves himself is welcome here. Anyone and everyone!"

I smiled and held out my hand to shake again, "Thanks, then."

Then the police showed up; two younger officers that I didn't know. They put cuffs on the guy who went after us, who now seemed forlorn, and when they led him out, Lt. Munro showed up. He looked around until he spotted me, then put a face on that said, 'I knew it!' and came over to us.

He grinned as he approached, "Smiley, Smiley, Smiley! I hope you join the force when you grow up, because then maybe you'll get a special case wished on you." I stood up smiling, and Aaron got up beside me. Munro asked, "You're okay?"

I nodded, and then he gave Aaron the once-over, smiling all the while. "I know you're Aaron," he said, and put his hand out. He looked away and laughed to himself after they shook, then he turned back at the both of us. "I don't know quite what to say right now, so let me keep my foot out of my mouth. Will you be pressing charges, Evan?"

I hadn't thought about that. "Should I?"

Munro's smile flattened out into a grimace. "Gregor Angus is well known to us, Evan. He's usually a brawler, but this is an assault case and he should pull time for what he did. If you say so, then I'll charge him with a hate crime as well, and whatever he gets will be doubled."

I looked at Aaron, who seemed shocked. I was angry, and especially angry that we'd been targeted for just holding hands. Still, I didn't know. "Do I have to tell you now?"

Chris stood up, "Do it, Evan! That bastard only did it because you're gay. You didn't even know he was here!"

Munro smiled at me, "See that, Evan? This boy just made it easy. All I need to add the hate charges are willing witnesses."

"Add me, then," said Mr. Kennedy, then the people around us started chiming in the same thing.

Munro took down some names, then he pulled me aside. "I'm not always certain whose side you're on, Evan. It was your say-so that got the Erasmus kid off the adult charges. Now a sack of shit like Angus literally mops up the floor with you, and ... you really shouldn't have to think twice, you know. You're not hurt, but that doesn't mean the next guy won't be. That man wanted to hurt you, and only because you're gay." He gave me an angry stare, "Keep that in mind." Then he walked off, but I had the message. I didn't believe that he was really angry, either, because he had a good spring in his step.

It took the disc jockey to loosen things up again. He was supposed to start after the meal, but people were excited and edgy, so they didn't eat when they were supposed to. When the music started, we headed for the buffet table. The line was long and slow, and I was certainly the subject of looks from other people. It bothered me after awhile, and I finally stood away to the side of the line and yelled, "If you have questions, I have answers!"

Chris was beside me in a flash, grinning and yelling, "Questions are free! General answers are a buck each. If you want specifics, then I'll be happy to discuss our fee structure!"

That brought on a gale of laughter, so since we were in position already, we dropped down and did our Cossack dance back to the line, which we barged right through. When we came up against a table we stood up, turned around and bowed, then fell into the folding chairs, knocking down a whole line of them. With the acoustics of the hall, it caused a mighty crashing sound. It was loud enough to startle even the deejay, and it set the stage for a truly righteous party.

After that we feasted, then we danced, and did we ever! It was like a free-for-all. The disc jockey had a good rig, and the music got louder and louder. At the same time, the dancing got looser and looser. I started out dancing with Aaron, but within an hour I'd danced with several girls and a few other guys. I didn't think the guys who asked me to dance were gay. I think they were just game. Well into the evening, Aaron and I were still the only same-sex people holding hands.

We were doing it, though!

I wasn't in Riverton, I was home in Mt. Harman. I was in the middle of a room full of people who now knew I was gay, and who knew that Aaron was my boyfriend. We were there celebrating the good job we'd all done on the school play. In my mind, we were also celebrating that I could bring Aaron to that function as my boyfriend, and have him treated well by everyone.

If I was Bill Gates, I think I would have run around handing everyone there a million bucks. Just for being who they were and how they were! These people were my friends, but more importantly they were my generation. Me being gay was maybe a point of interest, but only that. Aaron and I weren't evil, nor were we degenerate or disgusting. We were there to have fun, just like everyone else, and we did. We had the same fun as the others, the same fun with them! We were collectively the sources of each other's good time that night.

At around eleven, the music slowed, and people slow danced. We'd done every fast dance known to mankind, including some really dumb line dances, and a (fun) thing called the chicken dance.

Dessert came out at the same time, so when Aaron and I finished our first slow dance, we went for cake and ice cream. The music was quieter then, low enough that you could talk over it if you had a good set of lungs. Loudness was a matter of degree by that time. Some people had left, and more people were table hopping to talk to their friends.

They had this wonderful spice cake that I went back for seconds of, and when I got back to our table Aaron was talking to Janice and Mr. Kennedy.

I brushed Janice's hair away from her face and looked at her cheek. She had a little band-aid there, and pushed my hand away, saying, "It's just a scratch." She smiled slyly, "You're the master of surprises tonight, Evan. Aaron says you've been seeing each other since last summer. Is that why you ran off like you did?"

Chris, my attorney and apparently my accountant, leaned in close and said, "Whoa! That's a multi-part question, and very personal I might add." He started touching fingers on his left hand, pushing them forward and back like it was some kind of calculating machine, and he said, "Get twenty-two dollars for that one, Ev. More if she has it. We have to think about my percentage, too."

I laughed and Janice joined in, then we all laughed.

It was time to dance again. The party was over at twelve, and I knew they meant twelve sharp. I got Aaron up to dance, and before we started, Janice cut in, handing Aaron off to one of her friends.

"You should have pressed charges, Evan. He's my uncle, but only by ancestry. He's a hateful bastard, and he's a child molester. For him to go after you because you're gay is beyond belief! He was touching me when I was only four. My father caught him, and he went to jail, but that's not the first or last time. I don't know why you hesitated when that cop asked you if it was a hate crime."

I groaned. "I don't know why, either, Janice. I was ..." I decided to not give her the details of the attack by Lee's father, "I was assaulted last year myself. It was a hate crime, I guess. There were two guys. One of them is dead now, but the other is my friend. I just wanted time to think tonight, time to see what it meant. I could have made charges tomorrow or the next day. I just ... I don't know, I think I automatically back off when someone can go to jail or something."

She pressed the side of her face into mine and sighed. "That's a good explanation, but I think you need the reverse of an anger management course."

I whooped out a laugh! 'I think you're right!" I cried. I looked around desperately, and when I saw him I called, "Hey, Aaron! Try to piss me off!"

He gave me a look, and when the song ended he ran over, "I can't piss you off. Nobody can piss you off!"

"I'm a wuss?" I asked.

Aaron grinned, "I didn't say wuss, you said that. I just think you're kind of un-pissoffable. I know, I know, it's not a word, but everybody gets mad before you even start to."

"I'm unnatural?" I mumbled.

"Stop it, Evan!" He grinned evilly, "I'll sthart to lithp, then you'll have me to ecthplain!"

Oh Lord, I loved Aaron. I pulled him to me, both of us laughing like loonies, and I kissed him. It was a big, fat, happy kiss, because I loved Aaron more than life itself. I'd honestly failed to think about where we were, but when a single pair of hands started clapping slowly it came back to me. I turned to see Chris starting it, but before long others joined in, and it soon sounded like a gentle round of applause.

I was so overwhelmed that I got tears in my eyes, then the deejay announced last song, and he played 'The Rose' of all possible candidates.

I had new twists on the lyrics in my head, and I whispered them to Aaron when the parts came up. He reacted by squeezing me tighter, and we lost ourselves in the music until it ended.

Then it was just like the play. Over.

It was time to go, but we stayed anyhow, just like after the shows.

I'd felt that before. The one time I went to a sleep away camp for two weeks, it was the exact same thing. We had this experience that we shared, and I knew not everybody liked it, but we still hung together until the last possible second at the end.

I found myself once again hugging, kissing and shaking hands. It was a wonderful, warm moment, and it was made all that much better with Aaron doing the same at my side.

I called my father to pick us up, then walked outside with the crowd to wait for him. I held hands with Aaron again, and if there was one thing that was remarkable, it was that not a soul paid attention. I was delighted, but I was still surprised that so few mentioned anything at all. I said to Aaron, "You know, I don't think there's a problem here."

Aaron snickered and whispered, "Yeah, except for Angus Mc Fuckface. I don't want to say it's good that he showed up, but at least you know what it can be like. I wouldn't want to be in a crowd of guys like that."

I put my arm around him, "Me either. I wonder if there is a crowd like him somewhere. It was his own pals that got him off us."

"Ev," Aaron said seriously, "Maybe there isn't a crowd like that, but listen to me. You have to believe they're out there, and that they're watching you. You're out now, and the people here are your friends. Monday, they'll tell everyone they know about you, and by Tuesday you will personally know who every asshole in your school is. They do exist. Maybe not in huge numbers, but what they lack in IQ they make up in bravado, so you better keep your eyes open. And don't be afraid to report them ... even if they just make a wisecrack."

"Aaron?" I asked, suddenly nervous.

"I mean it. You can defend yourself, Ev, but I don't think it's a good idea to be a tough guy. It can escalate too fast, and if a bad-ass gets his butt kicked by a gay boy, you can be sure he'll be back with his friends. Barring friends, he'll be back with a weapon."

I looked at Aaron, knowing he was serious. "Ev," he continued, "I have Justin and his friends, and they're like a human shield. People still try me. I report them. That gets them in trouble, and it keeps Justin out of it. He doesn't have to fight over me. All he does is let people know that he would!"

I bit my lip, then said, "I wish you mentioned all this before." I giggled, "I'm thinking that you're in better shape than me. I have me to defend myself, not a much bigger brother and his even bigger friends."

Aaron said, "You came out to your drama club. What you need is to have your hockey and baseball friends on your side." He eyed me, "Is that going to be a problem?"

Chris had stayed silent. "I don't see a big problem." He pointed, "Here's your dad." He looked at Aaron, and I watched my father while he waited for a chance to pull up to the curb. Chris went on, "People like Evan, Aaron. His friends are real friends, and for all the right reasons. I can see some of the guys making noise, but I can also see a lot of other guys who won't let anything happen."

My father pulled up, and we got in, Chris in the front, and he kept talking after we said hello to my father. It was rude, but it was important, too. "Aaron's right, too, Ev. Don't fight if you can avoid it, and always report any grief you get." He looked over the seat and gave me a wickedly handsome smile, "You can report it to me if you want, but be sure to cc the authorities."

"What?" my father asked. "Somebody catch me up! What happened?"

"Troglodytes," I muttered, causing Aaron to stifle a laugh, and Chris filled him in.

"Oh my God!" Dad said. "Are you two alright?"

"We're fine, Dad. It was just that one guy, and we had a lot of fun other than that. Munro showed up, and he gave me Hell, but kind of like you do."

"Explain that," Dad said dangerously.

"Oh, you know!" I said.

Aaron said, "Evan didn't right away say it was a hate crime, that's what happened. That's what we were just talking about. There's a whole system to chew up the people who don't get it, and I want to make sure that Evan uses it."

Dad drove for awhile, and we were almost home when he said, "You listen to Aaron, son. You hear me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Chris, you make sure he does."

"I will."

I didn't want to laugh out loud, and I contained it. Chris had said that as seriously as a wedding vow, but I was certain that he had everything crossed. His fingers, his arms, his legs and his toes. I will was a hilarious piece of fiction when it crossed those particular lips so solemnly.

I was trying so hard not to laugh that Aaron got nervous. He thought I was having a seizure or something, but it passed quickly enough, and we were soon home.

Chris was staying over, and we decided to camp out in the family room. I brought down blankets and pillows, and we got comfy on the sofa, our feet on the coffee table. We laughed over the last segment of Saturday Night Live, then fell asleep before we even knew what the following movie was called, much less what it was about.

I was in the middle, and I woke up at some point for no good reason. Chris was crushed up against my left shoulder, and Aaron's head was laying away from me, but he had a leg over mine. It was the middle of the night, or maybe even early morning. The television was on, but I didn't even look to see what was playing.

I suppose most people would have closed their eyes and gone back to sleep, but no. Not me. I was sandwiched between my lover and my best friend, and the good feeling that went through me woke me up even more.

We'd only taken our shoes off, and so were still dressed. I wasn't really even horny, but it dawned on me that I was living in the land of opportunity. Chris on the left, Aaron on the right, me in the middle. They wouldn't know, so what could it hurt? I gently reached out with both hands, and I cupped them around their most private parts. Chris jumped a little in his sleep, then his legs spread just a bit and I got even a better feel. Aaron just sighed, and I ... well, I didn't have the nerve to take it any further, so I tried to burn the memory of it into posterity before I fell back asleep, one hand still on Chris and the other on myself.

I woke up on Sunday to the phone ringing, and it was part of whatever I was dreaming at first, then a real phone, but I didn't know where it was. When it stopped ringing, I fell directly back to sleep, then my father came down. "Phone, Evan. It's time to get up anyhow!"

I opened my eyes and took the phone when he held it out. I was groggy. "Hello?"

"Hey, Evan," Lee said quietly. "Are you around today? Wanna come over?"

I wasn't ready for questions yet. "Rrrrrrh!" I said. "You just woke me up!"

I could hear humor in Lee's voice. "That's what your dad said. Call me back?"

I sat up, "I'll do that, give me some time. I was out late last night."

"Okay, sorry. I'll be here," then he hung up.

I toyed with the idea of going back to sleep. Chris and Aaron never even woke up.

I slipped out from between them, then went up to the bathroom. After my shower, I put some clothes on and went to wake those guys up, only to find them already watching television in a mutual stupor. They noticed me, and Aaron smiled. Chris groaned, "Oh no! It's not only alive, it's awake!"

I looked at him and made a snoring sound, then beamed at Aaron. "Hey, boyfriend of mine. Was it fun last night?"

Aaron looked at me, sleep still in his eyes, and he managed to pull off a perfect smile. "Yeah," he said softly, "it was a beautiful party."

"Me too," Chris added for no reason.

I said, "Lee called. He want's us to come over."

Aaron's mouth opened wide in a huge yawn, which was more about his bodily condition than his feelings about Lee, then he smiled, "Fine by me. What's up over there?"

I shrugged, "Nothing if we're still here. C'mon, get moving. I'll see what's to eat."

Chris grinned, "You can still eat? I think after last night I could go a day without."

I laughed, "Okay. Bacon or sausage or both?"

"Both, thanks."

I didn't have to cook too hard. There was a large bowl full of pancake batter that my mother made earlier, and there were a dozen sausages staying warm in the oven. I figured the sausages contained enough grease for one day, so I forgot about making bacon. The only thing I did was to chop up a couple of apples into the batter before starting the pancakes.

I cooked while Aaron and Chris took turns in the bathroom, and Aaron was the first one to join me in the kitchen. I fixed him a coffee, and we sipped on that until Chris came down. Then we had apple pancakes and sausages and about a gallon of white moo. My father came in while we were still eating, and I got on his case.

"Dad, can you call your congressman and tell him the restricted license laws bite? We want to go and see Lee, and to do it legally we have to either break the law, disturb an adult, or take three cars. Tell me how that makes sense!"

Dad was settling in at the other table with the Sunday paper. Without looking at me, he said, "It makes no sense, Ev. No sense at all."

I watched him separate the ads from the news, and asked, "Well? Aren't you going to do something?"

He sighed, put the paper down, and turned to us. "What should I do, Evan? Call a special session of congress to beat down a law before you leave to see your friends?"

That sounded good. I shrugged, "Okay."

Dad rolled his eyes, then looked at the three of us kind of one at a time. "Evan," he said evenly, "Take your car, and your friends, and drive directly from here to point B. Then park that car, and keep it parked until it's time to come back. Take your bogus badge with you, and don't bump into anything."

"You're serious?" I asked.

Dad already had his nose back in the paper, and he pretended not to hear me. I traded surprised smiles with Chris and Aaron, then we left the room very quietly, and hurried up to my bedroom. I called Lee to tell him we were on the way, then put on my disguise, which was a Braves hat. I didn't think that a cop would stop someone in a Braves hat, except they might wonder what he was doing in a nice car. On the other hand, they'd probably give me a ticket on general principles if I wore a Red Sox hat. The only danger in a Yanks or Mets cap was that if business was slow they might pull me over to talk about the upcoming season.

For the five minutes it took to drive to where Lee was staying life seemed like it should be, which was impossibly wonderful. Chris started to complain about the tight quarters in the back seat, and I drowned him out with my Ziggy Marley cd. I was the only one who liked reggae, but hey, that's tough. We were in MY. CAR.

There was something new in Herb's driveway; a basketball hoop. Lee was there running in layups, and Chris and I joined him as soon as we got out of the car.

I was long past worrying about Aaron when I decided to join a game. He honestly enjoyed watching and never felt left out.

We couldn't play a game with three of us, but we tried to. I was used to playing with Chris, and Lee was really good at it. He was quick, and he had excellent ball control, and he hit when he had to. He took hits well, too, and we had fun until we were all out of breath.

Lee fell back against the garage door and gasped, "I need a break," as he tossed the ball to Chris.

Chris sat down on the blacktop and tossed the ball to me, saying, "Me, too. Man!"

I was puffing, too. I tossed the ball at the basket and made the shot, and let it drop to the pavement and bounce away. I squatted, caught my breath, then said to Lee, "You're good! Do you play on a team?"

He nodded, still breathing hard, "Boy's Club. We're done now, but I still go on Saturdays. I might go out for the school team next year."

Chris said, "You should. There's no way you wouldn't make it."

Lee smiled what seemed like a private smile, and I shared it with him. Dad called me a good judge of character, and he paid our lawyer to get the judge in Lee's case to let me talk to the court.

* * * * * * * *

Lee's fate wasn't being determined in a trial, but rather a series of hearings that were closed to the public, including me. I had to talk to the judge with only the prosecutor, Lee's own lawyer, and our family lawyer there. The DA showed up, too. Nobody else was allowed, not even Lee.

I went in all nervous, but those people all knew each other, and the DA wasn't quite the monster I'd made him out to be in my own mind. I had never seen a courtroom except on television, and the place seemed kind of junky to me. I was still as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, but I bit my lip and said what I wanted to.

The judge, the prosecutor and the DA all challenged me when I said I didn't believe Lee meant me any harm, but they listened carefully when I told them what I thought. The judge asked me the most questions, and I stuck to the truth. When they said it was a hate crime I agreed, but argued that Lee didn't hate me. He didn't even know me at the time. His father didn't know me either, so it was the idea of me that he hated, not me personally. He was nuts anyhow.

When they said they were done with their questions, the judge said I could say something if I wanted to.

I wanted. I said quietly, staring at the wall, "Lee saw his friends get murdered for no reason one night. He was ten years old," I added the last with emphasis. "Then he was kidnaped, and he got raped over and over again. He was still ten years old." I was speaking slowly and deliberately, "When they caught that man, Lee went home, but then he lost his father for the first time. They sent Mr. Erasmus to jail for two years because he did a crazy crime." I looked at the judge, "I never heard anyone say one bad word about Lee's father. He was a good guy who just couldn't take the things that happened to Lee, then to himself. It all made him crazy, which made him go after me. That was a crazy man, not the man Lee knew as his father."

I took a sip of water, "You all saw what happened on Thanksgiving. It was pretty spectacular, but nobody seems to remember that Lee lost his father for real that day. There was a man in that house when it exploded, and he was a man who led a good life ... until another man came and ripped that life right out from under him!"

I put up the first finger on my left hand, and touched it with the first finger of my right hand. "Lee saw his friends get murdered, and for no reason on earth." I put up the next finger, "Lee got kidnapped." Another finger, "Lee got raped, hundreds of times! Lee had to watch his father go crazy, then go to jail. I don't have enough fingers here!" I said, dropping my hands. "Lee's father attacked me when Lee was with him. Lee didn't do it, his father did. Then Lee's father made him shoot at our house. Lee didn't even know where I live. Then his father totally lost it. He threatened Lee and his own wife, and his wife's family, then he blew their house up to the sky with him in it."

I sat back and took a deep breath, then another sip of water. I crossed my arms, then uncrossed them. "I don't think I'm the victim here, at least not the victim of Lee Erasmus. I know Lee now, and he's my friend. He's honest, he's smart, and he's athletic. He's fun to be around, and he tries to do the right things. He looks after his mother, and she's getting better because of it. I think that's all I have to say."

The judge and lawyers mumbled things between themselves, then the judge asked, "Evan, what do you think should happen to Lee?"

I looked at them in turn, and I said, "I think you should send him home to look after his mother. I think you should let him go to school without this ... cloud over his head. I think if you tell him to behave and do well, and to have fun doing it, that's exactly what you'll get."

Our lawyer drove me home after that, and he was beside himself trying to convince me that my future was in law. I told him I'd think about it, because the respect the judge, the attorneys, even the DA obviously had for the law gave me a new respect for it. I wasn't the only one to stand up for Lee. Paul did, and Lee's uncle Herb, and other people who knew Lee and his family from before. It was just one of us at a time, so we didn't know what the others said, and it seemed right that they did it like that.

My respect for the law grew more eight days later when they turned Lee loose. No jail, no probation, no record, nothing. He didn't even have any more court dates; it was over. I learned it from our family lawyer, who'd had a call from Lee's attorney.

He told me that everything, and he repeated the word everything, that pointed to the Lee Erasmus criminal case was headed straight for the shredder, and that included police records and court records. It never happened, not even my day in court.

Lee knew I'd gone into the court and why, but I never told him what I said when he asked about it, and he only asked once.

Lee's mother was still seeing a counselor, and she might always, though she was getting back to normal, too. Their own house was rented out, but they were moving back there after school let out. The little village they lived in was technically a part of Riverton, so Lee would go to school with Aaron and those guys. Lee was exactly the kind of person that guys like Billy and Huck would gravitate to anyhow, so he'd be in good hands there.

* * * * * * * *

I heard the words, "Evan, catch!" and was immediately struck on the ear by a basketball that glanced off my shoulder. I looked to see Aaron's mortified face while a hand went automatically to the ear. Poor Aaron. He was a lot of things, and he was everything to me, but he'd never figure out athletics beyond running and jumping.

I smiled, while Chris admonished him. "Listen to me one more time, Aaron. Get his attention before throwing things at his head." Chris grinned, "That way you can get him right on the snoot!"

Aaron looked worried, and asked in a small voice, "Are you alright?"

I stood up and beckoned him to me, then took both his hands. "I'm fine." I knocked on the side of my head, "You can't hurt me here! It's too hard!"

Chris chided, "His brain's too soft, Aaron. That hurt. I know it hurt! I think you should give Evan money."

Aaron looked worriedly at Chris, then back at me. I couldn't hide anything from him, and we both started giggling together, then we hugged. I realized where we were and started to push him away, then I remembered that Lee wasn't the only newly free person in that driveway. I pulled Aaron close and kissed the end of his nose, then turned my ear to him for a kiss. We kissed quickly on the lips, then let go of each other, and that damn ball slammed right into the back of my head.

I sagged. Lee was laughing, but he hadn't thrown it. Without looking at Chris, I said to Aaron, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Chris gets jealous, you know. Give me a minute to love him up, and I'll be right back."

I whirled on Chris, and he took off running. "Stop right there, mister!" I yelled. "Bend over, I'll drive!"

Poor Chris! He had a good lead on me, but he can't run for shit when he's laughing. I tackled him on somebody's muddy lawn, and I noogied him in the middle of his neck where he's hopelessly ticklish.

Chris let out a screech that made me glad that I didn't wear glasses, for they would have surely shattered. I briefly considered that maybe I'd need glasses after being so close to the source. He bucked hard enough that he dislodged me, and just then the homeowner came out on his porch, yelling, "You two bring it somewhere else! You're trespassing!"

We stood up, and I mumbled, "Sorry."

Chris looked at himself, then toward the guy, who was going back inside. "You should be careful, you know! You could get sued for having a lawn this dirty!"

That was funny, it was definitely funny. I turned tail anyhow, and headed back to Lee and Aaron. Chris was beside me in a second. He slapped my shoulder and said, "What an asshole! Take it somewhere else!" He threw up his hands and yelled back in that direction, "Fungoo matz!"

I had mud on my knees and my feet, some on my hands. Chris had mud from head to toe. Aaron and Lee both laughed when they saw him. Chris asked, "What's so funny?"

Lee said, "Oh, nothing."

Chris looked down at his front and said, "Oh Hell!"

Aaron said, "You wear it well, Chris."

Chris gave Aaron a murderous look, "Is that harassment, Castle? Is it?"

Aaron got worried that Chris might be serious, so I stepped in for him. "Aaron was complimenting you, Chris. I see what he means, too." I beckoned to Lee, and when he came close I put my hand on his neck and pushed his face close to Chris. "Am I right, Lee? Give us a smile, Chris. Look, see what I mean? Don't those green teeth look much whiter against a backdrop of brown mud?"

Chris growled, and Lee said cheerfully, "They sure do!"

I grinned at Chris. "See? It was a heartfelt compliment, not harassment! Go sue the lawn man!"

I turned my back, and Chris muttered, "One of these days, Evan. One of these days, then POW! Right in the kisser!"

"Yeah, right!" I laughed.

Chris said, "Bring me home so I can get changed."

I shook my head, "In my car? No way, man!"

Chris knew I'd bring him, but I didn't have to. Lee said, "Don't even bother. You can wash off and wear some of my clothes."

They went inside, and I sat on the step with Aaron. I said, "I think I'm going to like being out. I almost pushed you away before, but I don't have to do that now."

Aaron started, "There will be times .."

"I know," I said. "I know. Most of the time, though ..." I stopped because I didn't have a complete thought.

"What about tomorrow?" Aaron asked.

"What about it?"

"You'll be ... ah ... people will know tomorrow, Ev. Everybody will know. Maybe even more than everybody. You know your friends, but I think you're going to meet your enemies."

I said defensively, "It went well last night."

Aaron nodded. "It did. Nobody took a vote though. I know this, Ev. Believe me, I know it. Even people who wouldn't touch you, who really like you, will get edgy when they see us together. I mean, my friends do, so yours will too."

He leaned his head against mine and said, "You're not me. I'm like your prototype, stereotypical gay boy, and you're not like that at all. Saying that, now I think your experience might be totally different. You're not a little fairy, and you have your own friends, not ones that you inherited from your brother." He nuzzled me, "Maybe you can pull it off. Heh, your mileage may vary."

I cuddled up to Aaron. He was right. My mileage would most likely vary from his. I wasn't really afraid of it, but I was apprehensive. I was on a new course, because a lot of people who I didn't know especially well now knew I was gay. They knew I had a boyfriend named Aaron. Some had even witnessed an act of violence on me because I was gay.

I'd felt support from them as a group, but Aaron was right. They hadn't taken a vote, and the support might be generic rather than specific. They saw some old drunk charge at me and Aaron, and they cheered when he was taken out. A very few of them had given me personal words of support afterwards, and that was pretty much the sum of what I knew.

I kissed Aaron kind of absently, suddenly absorbed in what might happen. Not just the next day, but every day for the rest of my life. I was gay and I was out.

I was still Evan, though, and proud of it, even in the first person. Gay yes, but not some error of nature. I don't know why some are born gay any more than why some are left-handed. I liked to think of it like I was gay so Aaron would have someone to love, and he was gay so I would, too.

Maybe it was simplistic, but it was a truth that worked for both of us. I still had a simple thought sometimes: Evan and Aaron, up in a tree ..

That tune danced in my head, and it was happy music. I didn't need the tree.

Just Aaron and me.


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